Struggle to fill health sector gaps

By Gill South

New Zealand's ageing population driving the demand for professional and non-professional care workers.

New Zealand is constantly competing with Australia and other Western countries further afield for qualified medical staff. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand is constantly competing with Australia and other Western countries further afield for qualified medical staff. Photo / Getty Images

The health sector is one of the most challenging sectors in recruitment.

The country's ageing population is driving the demand for professional and non-professional health workers and this can only increase, according to industry experts.

According to Geneva Health chief executive Jo Wallis, there are not enough people being attracted into nursing or other health professions to keep pace with increased demand related to an ageing population.

This is a problem New Zealand and a number of other countries are having, says Wallis. The United States, for instance, is short of one million nurses.

"But we are a small country and the problem is more manageable," says Wallis, who would like to see regional health providers working together to solve nationwide skills problems.

Geneva Health has a national contract with ACC to provide home and community support services.

Healthcare in the home is increasingly common, says Wallis. "It's not just more cost effective, it's better for the patient as long as it is appropriate. It means they have a better night's sleep, they are surrounded by family and can have the food they like cooked for them," says Wallis. For healthcare providers, the issue is managing the logistics of deploying the right sort of people at the right time.

Wallis says she is seeing demand for psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses in mental health, midwives, operating room nurses, anaesthetic nurses and paediatric intensive care nurses.

Geneva Health provides nursing tutors to Unitec and Massey University. The University of Auckland also has a nursing degree.

Wallis says the NZ qualification of nursing is highly regarded, matching world standards and making NZ nurses popular overseas.

Meanwhile Debbie Glen, agency head of Frontline NZ Health Auckland, says she regularly looks through the official government long and short-term skills shortage list and it mirrors what she sees in the market.

"At Frontline Health, we work primarily with tertiary-qualified clinical individuals in the health sector especially in aged care, mental health, rehabilitation, community, appearance medicine and more specialist roles such as medical imaging. We see a shortage across all of these areas and the more senior the role, the more difficult it is to find skilled employees."

Candidates who are experienced in more specialised mental health roles, such as psycho-geriatric, will continue to be in demand, she says.

Glen points out that as well as having clinical staff for an increased hospital level of care to the ageing population, district health boards (DHBs) are aiming to retain the able- bodied ageing population in the community for as long as possible.

New Zealand is always competing with Australia and further afield for qualified medical staff and Glen says NZ medical professionals are still heading across the Tasman, attracted by higher salaries and greater career opportunities. Frontline found in its most recent salary survey that New Zealand sits around 10 per cent lower in most categories compared to its Australian counterparts.

In New Zealand, meanwhile, the medical schools are providing the training but that is not enough, says Glen. "The larger commercial businesses and the district health boards have new graduate training programmes but smaller private or not-for-profit organisations often do not have the time and resources and structures in place to bring people up to speed."

In New Zealand, as in other Western countries, medical recruitment companies are looking overseas for the right skills.

Accent Health owner/manager Prudence Thomson travels to the UK twice a year to recruit medical staff from doctors to midwives, or "anyone who works in a hospital". Thomson is also attending a recruitment expo in Singapore where she is hoping to find doctors, GPs and consultants for jobs in New Zealand. While she is competing with other countries on salary, some private hospitals in New Zealand are becoming more competitive, she says.

Thomson reports an increased demand for GPs, emergency physicians, psychiatrists, radiologists, experienced nursing staff, sonographers, specialised physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

- NZ Herald

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